Flying on Julia’s 65th birthday, up there in the sky together—I’m writing thank you notes: this one’s for you.

For me, family dates are engraved on my heart. March 13th will ever be Julia’s day. Will ever be my sister’s birthday. She lives within us, and curiously, seems to age right along with us. On this birthday, and every birthday, she lives beyond her death day.

Oooh Roses Valentines 2008

In 2005 on the first birthday after Julia’s death in 2004, I wrote in “Reaper”:

Sunday, March 13th.
Our flower calendar shouted her name.
One of the only birth dates I know by heart.
Hers. Julia’s. Sometimes it’s hard to say her name,
to sort it all out without coming apart.
Her 62nd birthday and she’s not here to enjoy it.
What a shame!

I didn’t know how to say it.
Does saying it salt the wound,
or salve it?
At the end of the day,
late supper at the kitchen table.
It’s her birthday, you know.
“Yes, a long row to hoe.”
Pop’s back hunched a little more.
His head hung a little lower.

Our hands locked in a vice grip.
“A special day when she was born.”
In Little Rock, Arkansas.
Luckily he was out on pass from Army Camp.
Mother’s water broke.
They barely reached the hospital in time.
No dilly-dallying. No shilly-shallying.

She never was one for waiting around.
Is birth destiny?
Her basic character set from the start.
She led the way. Always had her say.

Strength shot through with a stubborn edge.
Both stood her in good stead.

*** *** ***
Julia traveled the globe as a misisonary of physics. Today I fly to Southern California to give a service on Sunday for the Riverside Unitarian Church, “Memento Mori: Life and Death, Moment by Moment” [read text on sidebar] that includes much of her story and our story. It seems so right that I’m traveling on her 65th birthday. As I said in “Valentine”:

She came and went on airplanes and trains.
Spanned continents.
Subatomic explorations, muons and pions accelerated.
Cosmic rays glowed in mine shafts.
Minorities and women in science.
Good works all around.

She came and went and so did I.
We criss-crossed the globe, but never flew together.

Strangely, no pictures exist of just us two.
It’s always in stairstep threes: Julia, Gary, and me.
Easter suits, hats and gloves.
Two Indians on the warpath scalping their younger sister,
sweet-cheeked, in a pink-posied sunbonnet.
Leaning forward, bareback, on our pony.

She spanned continents.
She came and she went.
Good works all around.
Now, for me, time to hold my ground.

I’m writing thank you notes, Julia.
This one’s for you.


“Reaper” and “Valentine” excerpts both from “Sightlines: A Poet’s Diary,” by Janet Grace Riehl and copyrighted by the author 2006.

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One Comment

  1. I’m so sorry for the loss of your sister. Your poetry is a touching tribute to her life.

    I lost my brother 11 years ago when he was only 56. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t think about him.

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